Tag Archive for: Cambio

Giving Thanks for Committed People on Thanksgiving

Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., most of America had already physically or mentally checked out for the long Thanksgiving holiday. Those still at work were making shopping lists or travel arrangements. Those still trying to DO work, found it harder and harder. Clients had left for vacation. Telephone calls went unanswered. Suddenly the calculus had shifted. What you could accomplish at work paled in comparison to what you had to do at home.

An Improbable Meeting on the Eve of Thanksgiving

So it surprised me when Kaaren Cambio, Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s field representative, invited me to a meeting near Luce Bayou in Huffman. But I knew many people had flooded there during Imelda, so I went.

When I arrived, I discovered I was at the flooded home of Dr. Tom Kelchner and his wife Laura. Most of the group had already gathered in Tom’s front yard. It turned out this would be a stand-up meeting. There was no place to sit. The Kelchner home was still under repair. Harvey and Imelda hammered them.

Like so many others in different places around Lake Houston, they worried about repetitive flooding. They saw sediment and dead trees building up in the Bayou and worried about backwater effects that could flood them again. As they explored ways to get the trees and sediment removed, they discovered they had fallen into a black hole.

Fallen trees, such as these, can form “beaver dams” that back water up and flood homes.

No one governmental entity, it seemed, had responsibility for the maintenance of Luce Bayou. The Inter-Basin Transfer Project had thrown it into a bureaucratic black hole. Harris County, Flood Control, the Coastal Water Authority and the City of Houston would all have to collaborate to fix the problems on Luce Bayou.

Thanksgiving Miracle #1

Now here’s where we get to the holiday magic part of the story. Rather than let these residents labor indefinitely under the threat of more flooding, Ms. Cambio called representatives of all the groups together. AND THEY ALL SHOWED UP! That was the first miracle.

Left to Right: Laura Kelchner, Dr. Tom Kelchner (Property Owners); Nick Dragon, Property Manager, Tetra Tech; Kaaren Cambio, Field Representative, Office of Congressman Dan Crenshaw & Board Member, San Jacinto River Authority; Layne Yeager, Property Manager, Harris County Flood Control District; Shane Hrobar, Urban Forester,  Harris County Flood Control District; Dr. Reynaldo Guerra, Capital Improvement Program Manager, Harris County Commissioner – Precinct 2; Jeremy Phillips, Senior Director of Infrastructure,  Harris County Commissioner – Precinct 2; Mike Lykes, Chief of Staff,  Harris County Commissioner – Precinct 2; Maria Martin, Property Owner; Anthony Bowie, Deputy Director-Operations, Solid Waste Management Department, City of Houston.

After handshakes and introductions, the meeting moved from the front to the back yard where you could see Luce Bayou and some of the problems. For more than an hour, the group discussed technical and organizational issues. Everyone who needed to be part of the solution was there. And before the meeting ended, all participants knew exactly what they had to do.

In one hour, the problems went from “What’s this meeting about?” to “Let’s do this.”

The ad hoc “team” discusses needs and possible solutions.
Layne Yeager from Harris County Flood Control and resident Maria Martin discuss where the issues are.

Thanksgiving Miracle #2

There was no bureaucratic jealousy. No egos got in the way. No “This is not my problem.” And no “Death by PowerPoint.” That was the second miracle.

It reminded me that thousands of public servants like these join government to make a difference and, in this case, I suspect they will. This Thanksgiving season, I’m thankful for committed people like these.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/21/2019, with thanks to the committed staff at Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office

821 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 70 since Imelda

Houston Council Member Dave Martin Issues Mouth Bar Update

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to remove sand and siltation from the Lake Houston mouth bar.  

History of Project

In 2018, USACE first began removing debris deposited during Hurricane Harvey from the San Jacinto River under FEMA Mission Assignment (DR 4332). The assignment directed USACE to restore the river to pre-Harvey conditions.

DR 4332 has removed debris from three out of four identified sections of the San Jacinto River. Contractors should finish the last segment (shown in blue below) in May.

Original segments identified by USACE. The orange and green segments are complete. The blue segment should be finished with another week or so. And the purple segment is the one yet to be done – including the mouth bar.

FEMA did not approve the fourth section, in the original scope of work for DR 4332.  Last month, the City of Houston filed an application for mouth bar removal as well as an additional dredge material disposal site. FEMA and USACE have been reviewing it since then, according to Council Member Martin.

The State of Texas, the City of Houston, as well as multiple stakeholders from the Lake Houston area, requested FEMA to expedite authorization of a Mission Assignment for debris removal and dredging of the mouth bar while the equipment is still in the river. The hope: to save taxpayers the cost of a second mobilization effort. Mobilization for the first assignment cost approximately $18 million.

FEMA Issues Directive of Mission Assignment

At a meeting last week in Austin, FEMA issued a directive of Mission Assignment to USACE for dredging of the mouth bar at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.

The City requested removal of 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment. It is unclear at this time how much FEMA will fund, exactly where it will be stored, and whether matching funds will come from other sources. FEMA, TDEM, City of Houston, and USACE are still working to determine the amount of silt deposited by Hurricane Harvey.

Dredging of Final Segment To Begin Within 30 Days

 Martin hopes the calculation will be finalized next week, and expects dredging to begin within 30 days. 

The Great Lakes Dredge is still docked at the USACE Command Post while it awaits FEMA and USACE to finalize mouth bar dredging details with the City and State.

Kudos to Mission Team

In his press release, Martin issued “a huge thank you to our federal partners Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Field Representative for Congressman Crenshaw, Kaaren Cambio, Congressman Kevin Brady, Senator Ted Cruz, and Senator John Cornyn for their support as they have all been meeting regularly with FEMA and discussing this project.”

“This is a huge project for our area,” said Martin, “and it would not be possible without the on-going support and push from Governor Greg Abbott and Chief Nim Kidd, Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), as well as Mayor Sylvester Turner and Stephen Costello, Chief Recovery Officer – City of Houston.” 

Martin also gave additional thanks to Jenna Armstrong and Mark Mitchell from the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce for coordinating a letter writing campaign.

Breathing a Bit Easier Tonight

During floods earlier this year, I noticed a ten foot difference at times at gauges on either side of the mouth bar. It is acting like a dam behind the dam.

With the start of Hurricane season on June 1, residents of Kingwood and Humble will breathe a little easier tonight. Hopefully, the Corps and its contractors will be able to at least dredge a channel through the mouth bar area before the peak of the Atlantic season from mid-August through September.

The SJRA has agreed to continue lowering Lake Conroe during that period by 2 feet versus its normal level as an additional buffer against flooding.

My thanks to Council Member Dave Martin for pushing this project so tirelessly, and to Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti for leading to effort to lower Lake Conroe again this year. Neither effort has been easy. Finally, kudos also to Tim Garfield and R.D. Kissling, two local retired geologists for their efforts in helping people understand the dangers posed by the mouth bar.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 26, 2019

605 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Great Lakes Finishes Dredging Early; Accelerates Need for Mouth Bar Decision

Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted that dredging could take until early May. They allowed another month for de-mobilization. However, one of the two dredgers on the job, Great Lakes, finished this week. Their early finish could affect a series of decisions on the mouth bar.

Sand Bar blocking the West Fork of the San Jacinto where it enters Lake Houston. The City estimates that 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment was deposited in this area during Harvey.

Early Finish, New Possibilities

The early finish could let mouth-bar dredging start sooner. However, it also could put pressure on the Corps to consider options not in play a week ago.

At the end of March, the City of Houston submitted an application to FEMA to fund mouth bar dredging. The purpose: remove 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment from the giant sand bar at the mouth of the San Jacinto West Fork. Separately, the City also submitted a permit application to the Army Corps to store the dredging spoils on property in Humble, across from Kingwood’s River Grove Park.

Officials hoped that decisions could be made on both requests before the dredgers began demobilizing. That could save up to $18 million in re-mobilization fees. From a taxpayer-savings point of view, it’s more economical to keep the dredgers dredging than organize a second separate project.

However, Great Lake’s early finish is forcing everyone from Galveston to Houston to Austin to Washington to scramble.

Great Lakes’ dredge is back at the dock at the Corps’ command site in Humble.

New Possibilities

As of this afternoon, the Army Corps said it was still reviewing the storage application permit to use the property in Humble. The permit review plus site prep, if approved, could take months though.

This raised the question of a backup site and the obvious one in my mind is one the Corps is already using – Placement Area #2 (PA2) on Sorters Road south of Kingwood College.

But that would require a much longer run, additional booster pumps, more pipe, and most likely…the larger, more powerful dredge that just finished.

Experts tell me that it is technically feasible to pump the sand all the way from the mouth bar to PA2 – IF the sand mine operator would allow it.

Evaluating Alternatives

Will the higher cost of the longer run eat up any savings that come from avoiding a second mobilization? The Corps has not yet had time to explore all possibilities and run the numbers, but it’s good to know another possibility may exist…

  • …if FEMA acts right away
  • …if the Humble property runs into problems
  • …if the Corps needs to move quickly to take advantage of the larger dredge.

To help keep all options open, officials throughout Texas at every level have leaped into action.

Crenshaw and Brady Urge Quick Action

This morning, representatives from Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office met with FEMA. Both Crenshaw and Congressman Kevin Brady sent a letter to FEMA three days ago, underscoring the need for quick action on the grant request.

City, State Pushing, Too

City officials have scrambled also. Dave Martin, Houston City Council Member said, “I’ve been in communication all day, and had multiple conversations with Great Lakes; Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office; Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management; Stephen Costello, the City’s Chief Recover Officer, and more.” Reportedly, even Governor Abbott got involved at one point.

According to Martin, “Our #1 goal is a Mission Assignment.”

Still Time to Save Re-mobilization Costs

Martin added,”Nothing is being disassembled, yet. They are not removing any pipe yet. They are taking advantage of this down time to check the pipe’s condition so that it can be replaced if necessary. I’m guardedly optimistic at this time.”

One experienced dredger explained that pipe can wear out. Coarse sand, he said, can be very abrasive, especially with steel pipe.

So for the time being, dredgers are performing necessary maintenance and inspections. That could take days or weeks. However, it probably will not keep them here months. Bottom line: the clock is ticking … louder now than before.

Contractors can’t tolerate downtime indefinitely. How long they decide to wait will most likely depend on the certainty of future work. That depends on FEMA and how quickly it acts.

Update on Funding

FEMA has not yet committed any funding. Stephen Costello has said in the past that the amount they fund will depend on their assessment of the City’s assessment. The two sides need to agree on how much mouth-bar sediment came from Harvey.

Separately in Austin, SB500, a supplemental appropriations bill, has been approved unanimously by both the House and Senate. It includes an amendment from State Representative Dan Huberty that includes $30 million for dredging the mouth bar. That money could help form the local match for FEMA. Next step for SB500: conference committee and the governor’s desk.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has committed $18 million from the City, according to City Council Member Martin. And the County committed $10 million in last year’s flood bond.

Keep in mind though that we must also budget for dredging beyond the mouth bar. We need East Fork, remainder of the West Fork, and maintenance dredging.

All the pieces are falling into place. Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes on FEMA. This is a high-stakes, political drama for the Lake Houston area!

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 12, 2019

591 Days since Hurricane Harvey

SJRA Board Votes to Maintain Lake-Lowering Policy for Another Year

At its February 28th meeting, the San Jacinto River Authority voted to maintain its lake-lowering policy for another year. The policy calls for lowering Lake Conroe one foot below normal pool level (from 201 feet to 200) during the wettest months in Spring and two feet during the peak of hurricane season.

Extra Safety from Flooding

Until other mitigation measures can be put in place, the plan gives downstream residents an extra measure of safety from massive releases like those experienced during Hurricane Harvey. Those include dredging and additional flood gates for Lake Houston.

This is good news for the Lake Houston Area where Harvey made approximately 11,000 people homeless overnight.

Complaints from Lake Conroe Association in January Meeting

The Lake Conroe Association set the stage for conflict last month. The Association testified that last year’s lowering had a negative impact on business and home values in the area. They also maintained that the Board had acted unilaterally – without consultation – and that the project was only supposed to last through the end of dredging.

Having been at last year’s meeting where the proposal was discussed, I would disagree with these statements. The board considered dredging and gates for Lake Houston. The board also acted on the report of a consultant hired to review the proposal.

Mark Micheletti, a SJRA board member, said the board had received no complaints from businesses on the lake and that a check with realtors found no negative effect on home prices.

Reportedly, the Lake Conroe Association had also collected signatures on a petition asking for the policy to be reversed. At today’s meeting, the room was crowded with spectators, but I did not see the Association’s president, Mike Bleier. The association presented no petition.

The cataclysmic impacts on Lake Conroe’s economy did not materialize. Because of evaporation, the lowering really only amounted a little more than a foot in the fall.

Speaking for Kingwood

During the public comment section of the meeting, three Kingwood residents, Bill Fowler, Amy Slaughter and I, spoke FOR continuing to lower the lake. So did one Lake Conroe resident who flooded during Harvey.

I pointed out the fact that dredging was NOT yet complete and that the river still had an exaggerated flooding response to moderate rainfalls because of sediment dams. Fowler talked about normal evaporation levels in the lake and how the lowering was not as great as the targets would imply. Slaughter mentioned the impact of flooding on her family and recent Supreme Court rulings on inverse condemnation.

The Lake Conroe resident said he wished the Lake were lowered year round. He flooded during Harvey and thought that the lower levels would actually help Lake Conroe home values.

“But what if there’s a drought?”

When it came time to speak AGAINST the lowering, one man spoke up. He used water conservation as his main argument and posed the specter of drought.

When the board began debating the measure, Jace Houston, SJRA’s general manager, pointed out that many people misunderstood the measure. He said that the SJRA was not going to lower the lake beyond the 1- and 2-foot levels in the policy. If the lake was already down a foot due to evaporation, for instance, the SJRA would release no additional water.

Chuck Gilman, Director or Water Resources and Flood Management, thenshowed a series of slides that led to discussions about:

  • Lake-lowering strategy
  • Progress of the current West Fork dredging and Lake Houston Gates projects
  • Rainfall averages and historical lake levels by month
  • How the lowering and subsequent raising of the lake worked last fall
  • Staff recommendations
Graph presented by Chuck Gilman showed how gradual lowering and natural refilling of Lake Conroe worked last year.
Gilman also showed a slide discussing the status of additional gates for Lake Houston.

To see all the slides in the original high-resolution PDF format, click here.

Brenda Cooper, a new SJRA Board Member, then mentioned that some Lake Conroe residents had approached her to voice their disapproval of the project.

Motion Passes Unanimously

Board President Lloyd Tisdale finally called for a voice vote. “All members present voted FOR the lowering,” said Mark Micheletti, one of the Lake Houston Area’s two members on the SJRA board. “The vote could not have gone better from the Lake Houston area’s perspective.”

The SJRA will continue to lower Lake Conroe seasonally. The measure will come up for discussion again next February.

Community Reaction

Bill Fowler, Vice Chair of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiation, said, “I was impressed by the Board’s firm grasp of the importance of lowering Lake Conroe on a seasonal basis for downstream residents. Their willingness to help until permanent solutions can be implemented impressed me.”

Kaaren Cambio, another SJRA board director from the Lake Houston area, said, “I’m happy that the board is balancing the needs of both upstream and downstream communities.

Amy Slaughter, the Kingwood lawyer whose home flooded badly, said, “They did the right thing.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on February 28, 2019

548 Days After Hurricane Harvey

Update on Multiple Flood Mitigation Projects Affecting Lake Houston Area

Giant sandbar virtually blocks the west fork of the San Jacinto River just downstream from River Grove Park.

(Kingwood, Texas, April 17, 2017) At a meeting of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative tonight, Kaaren Cambio and Dave Martin updated more than 150 people about the status of numerous post-Hurricane Harvey flood mitigation projects. Bill Fowler, co-chair of the Grass Roots Initiative, led off the event by discussing tax rebates and re-assessments for homeowners who flooded and who nearly flooded.

San Jacinto River Authority Flood Mitigation Projects

Cambio, one of Kingwood’s two new members on the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) board,  spoke about projects being spearheaded by the SJRA and its partners. They included the SJRA’s response to new flood mitigation orders issued by Governor Abbott, a watershed-wide flood study, potentially lowering the level of Lake Conroe, tougher regulations on upstream sand miners, buyouts, creation of additional reservoirs, and more.

City of Houston Flood Mitigation Projects

Martin, Houston District E City Council Member, spoke about additional projects being spearheaded by the City. They included a sedimentation survey of the Lake Houston and its tributaries, the addition of tainter gates to the Lake Houston Dam, dredging and more.

Martin also spoke at length about the City’s recent decision to lower the level of Lake Houston in anticipation of a storm at the end of March. The storm dumped an average of 5 inches of rain across the San Jacinto watershed. In a show of hands, virtually all attendees agreed that the  decision to lower Lake Houston prevented widespread flooding and that the policy should be continued.

For details, view Cambio’s and Martin’s presentations via the hyperlinks above or on the Reports page.

Give Texas GLO Feedback on Its Flood Mitigation Action Plan

Cambio urged area residents to contact the Texas General Land Office prior to April 26 re: the  state’s action plan. The state is seeking feedback on its action plan and how it will spend more than $5 billion.  The nature and volume of feedback could affect the amount of funding that Lake Houston area projects receive from the state.

Posted April 17,2018, 231 days after Hurricane Harvey